After revealing some fairly fantastical renderings of a contemporary stone pyramid for Jerusalem last week, one might be forgiven for thinking that Daniel Libeskind lives in the realm of pure architectural fantasy. However, the Polish-American architect has recently returned to reality in Brazil, completing his first project in South America for real estate giants JSHF.
Situated in the Itaim Bibi district of Sao Paolo, Vitra is a high-rise condominium comprising 15 private residences each covering an entire floor with open-plan interiors and integrated balconies. The jaunty tower is also bursting at the seams with luxury health and leisure amenities including a swimming pool, spa, multipurpose lounge, and a playroom for children.
By Libeskind’s usual standards, this glacial column of deconstructivism is relatively restrained in form. Its crisp, glazed edges ascend toward the sky at the faintest of angles, lending the building a tapered silhouette that is markedly more conservative than some of the architect’s other residential projects, such as the scimitar-shaped towers at Keppel Bay in Singapore.
Vitra’s mirrored surface is quintessentially modern and reflects — quite literally — the changing face of Brazil, but how does this gleaming form relate to the current context? “The inspiration for the project is the city of São Paulo and the Brazilian people,” says Libeskind. “I designed this tower to expresses the optimism, vibrant culture, and dynamic possibilities of a truly pluralist people.”
One might argue that this utopian ideal is contradicted by the layers of exclusivity inherent within this shimmering structure. While the district of Itaim Bibi is home to an upwardly mobile demographic and the demand for high-end apartments is on the rise, the reality is that 99.9% of Sao Paolo’s inhabitants will have to be content with viewing these sheer walls of blue glass from the sidewalk.
While the architect has endeavored to create a landmark for this city’s “truly pluralist people,” a mere fraction of the population will ever be able to afford an apartment within this vault of luxury accommodation — comparisons can be drawn with certain projects rising in New York City, where “Billionaire’s Row” is offering up stunning panoramic views across Central Park and Midtown Manhattan … as long as you possess extraordinary wealth, of course.
Despite this, Paolo Oliviera — president of JSHF’s Incorporation Business Unit — remains bullish regarding the building’s architectural credentials. “Vitra is a new concept in condominium residences,” he asserts. “With its sculpted, crystalline form, it creates a new icon for the city of São Paulo.” Indeed, the project retains some merit in terms of design: the lobby is flooded with natural light and rich in materiality, crisp concrete walls and exposed columns contrasting with deep hues of native Brazilian wood.
The building also incorporates a raft of sustainable features: rainwater collection and solar panels are integrated into the design. The tower is wrapped in an envelope of energy-efficient low emissivity glass, while intelligent systems for services ensure that power used for air conditioning and elevators is kept to a minimum. The deep balconies carved into each floor also offer enough space for residents to keep plants in spite of the building’s dense, urban location.
While Vitra raises many questions about the socio-economic evolution of São Paolo, it is important to remember that Daniel Libeskind did not write the brief himself, he simply endeavored to satisfy his client’s objectives within the given time and budget constraints. The building itself flashes glimpses of design savvy and customary flair from Libeskind, but the overwhelming atmosphere is one of lavish sophistication, fueled by a no-holds-barred approach to the building’s material specifications.
Is this the new normal for Brazil? Time will tell …